Be Nutrition Wise While Flying the Friendly Skies


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  56 comments   :  22,236 Views

Surveys indicate that the majority of the American public wants to know the nutritional information for the food they eat. This is also true when it comes to flying the friendly skies.

Recently, an article about how U.S. airlines rate on the nutrition scale, revealed the 2009 airline survey results. The survey found that American Airlines was "most improved" over previous studies because of some sensible substitutions that were made. Continental took the top food spot because they offer free meals that are lower in calories, nutrient rich and provide variety.

Here is some highlight information for some of the more common airlines to help you make nutrient wise choices while traveling by air this holiday season as identified by the Annual Airline Snacking and Onboard Food Survey.

Continental Airlines - Provides a variety of options free of additional charges. If you are traveling over breakfast, instead of the calorie dense muffin (290 calories) select a bowl of cereal such as Total (70 calories) or Honey Nut Cheerios (110 calories) with 2 percent milk (61 calories/4 oz serving) and a banana (90 calories).

On a short flight over lunch or dinner, A Turkey (135 calories) or Ham (198 calories) Petite Cold Sandwich with lite mayonnaise (35 calories) and mustard (3 calories) with baby carrots (15 calories) is a great choice. Selecting pretzels (45 calories) as a snack option is a healthy choice as well as asking for plenty of water whenever beverages are offered to help you stay hydrated while in the air.

If you are on a longer trip that has you in the air for longer than 3 hours, you have the option of a sandwich, salad, and fun-size candy bar. Here are several good choices: Aldo's enchilada Chicken Wrap (180 calories), Buddy's Jennie-O Turkey Club (250 calories), Stefano's Turkey Dog (270 calories), or Stefano's Chicken Wrap (290 calories).Select a Naturally Fresh salad (10 calories) with either Lite Ranch (80 calories) or Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinaigrette (80 calories) dressing. For your sweet treat at the end of your meal, a Hershey's bar (67 calories), Kit Kat (80 calories) or Twix cookie bar (80 calories) will be your lowest calories choices.

American Airlines - Showing improvement in their meal and snack options but with a charge of $3-$10 for meals, travelers have to be aware when trying to maximize their nutrition choices.

It is important to know that if you are flying over breakfast time and are offered the Breakfast Café snack box (480 calories) it is a nutrient wise offering for the calories. The typical breakfast box includes Breyers YoCrunch strawberry yogurt (190 calories), Quaker Oatmeal Express - Golden Brown Sugar (200 calories) and a box of Sun-Maid Raisins (90 calories). When it comes to the snacks that are offered, being nutrient wise is key. Of course you would probably skip the Saile & Sabga Gourmet Chocolate Chip Cookie (420 calories) or the Lay's Stax Potato Crisps (826 calories) because you know that while they will be delicious, they are also mostly empty calories. While you are able to select several options that are nutrient rich, they may also be at a cost of half your recommended daily caloric intake. The Premium Nut Blend (706 calories) would be great to share with a traveling companion instead of having the entire serving by yourself, which can cut the calorie damage in half. The other nutrient rich choice is the Cheese & Cracker Snack Tray (430 calories) containing two Pepperidge Farm two-cracker packs (95 calories), .75 ounces of cheese (75 calories), one-once box of raisins (90 calories) and a one-ounce bag of mixed nuts (170 calories), any of which can be saved for later to spread the snack out throughout your travels.

If you are on a longer flight, Boston Market sandwiches, salads and chips are made available. It would be best to pass on the Boston Market Beef Brisket Grinder and chips (820 calories) which is the highest calorie option offered. The Boston Market Chicken Carver sandwich with chips (630 calories) is an ok choice but the Boston Market Chicken Caesar Salad with SunChips and dressing (470 calories) is the best choice, especially if you use the dressing sparingly.

United Airlines - Provides the best variety but unfortunately with only limited options that maximize nutrition. When traveling on long flights over five hours there are snack box, fresh salad and sandwich choices but unfortunately the sandwiches and salad choices are less health-conscious than the snack box options. When traveling on a longer flight over breakfast, be careful with options like the Continental breakfast (613 calories), Yogurt parfait (310 calories), Cinnamon muffin (470 calories), or the Blueberry muffin (440 calories). While they seem like they would be a lower calorie, lower fat choices, since they are so carbohydrate heavy, you may find you are hungry soon after breakfast and are in need of a late morning snack. The Ham & Swiss croissant (338 calories) might be a little higher in fat than you like but it does supply a high protein breakfast sandwich that will stick with you and may allow you to skip the late morning snack. If you decide to go with the Continental breakfast, use the strawberry jam (30 calories) on your French toast bagel (180 calories) with the strawberry yogurt (90 calories) and skip the cream cheese (313 calories) all together. By skipping the cream cheese, you create a nutrient rich breakfast option that is only 300 calories.

When on a flight longer than two hours, there are several nutrient rich snack box options. Consider the Organic (436 calories) snack box containing cheese crackers (130 calories), granola (130 calories), apple chips (43 calories), fruit stick (68 calories) and a chocolate (65 calories) treat or the Active snack box (634 calories) which includes almonds (260 calories), tortilla chips (180 calories), a turkey stick (50 calories), salsa (20 calories), raisins (44 calories) and a Thinkfruit bar (80 calories). Other choices such as the Luxe (607 calories) snack box with multigrain chips (210 calories), olives (40 calories), crackers (35 calories), cheese spread (79 calories), Grissini (70 calories), chocolate-covered pretzels (110 calories) and hummus (63 calories) or the Classic (616 calories) with kettle chips (150 calories), salami (80 calories), Oreos (100 calories), cheddar spread (70 calories), Goldfish (70 calories), crackers (70 calories) and jelly beans (46 calories) are not as nutrient rich in their offerings.

When you are on shorter flights and offered a simple snack, steer clear of the Lay's Stax potato crisps (900 calories), Toblerone chocolate bar (510 calories) and the Walkers shortbread cookies (540 calories) since they provide mostly empty calories. Instead, select the Fisher salty nut mix (630 calories) to share with a travel companion or the Clif Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bar (240 calories) or the Odwalla Banana Nut Nutritional bar (240 calories).

Choices for lunch and dinner on flights longer than three and a half hours include a variety of salads and sandwiches. The more nutrient rich choices include the spinach salad (553 calories) or the assorted cheese tray (570 calories). Another of the more nutrient rich choices would be the roast beef sandwich with chips (536 calories) or the chicken Caesar salad (505 calories). The Thai chicken wrap with chips (672 calories) and the turkey sandwich with chips (860 calories) would probably be choices to reserve for the times when there is no other choice and leaving the chips and scraping off the mayo will help reduce the calorie and fat damage as well.

Jet Blue - Provides great portion-control with their individually packaged snack which are all under 170 calories. There also continues to be small improvements with the no additional charge meals as well.

While all the snack choices are below 170 calories per pre-portioned serving, some are more nutrient rich than others are. While the all nuts jumbo cashew halves (170 calories for a 1-ounce serving) is the highest calorie choice, it also provides the most nutrition for the caloric cost. Several of the other more nutrient rich choices would include the fiber gourmet cheese snacks (50 calories), Chifles plantain chips (105 calories), Stauffer's original animal crackers (100 calories) or the Stella D'Oro breakfast treats (100 calories for one cookie). Lowest on the list in the nutrition benefit for the calories would include the Chocobillys chocolate cookies (140 calories), Doritos munchies mix (140 calories) and the Terra Blues potato chips (130 calories).

Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines - These airlines do better with more nutrient rich meals than they do with their snacks. There is still plenty of room for improvement especially when they do not have nutritional information available for the meals available at an additional cost of $3-$10 per meal.

When planning for shorter flights, save a little time and pick up a healthier snack option from the airport to take with you when you board. The healthiest snack choice is the Planters fruit & nut trail mix (840 calories) but at a big calorie cost. Other snack choices provide little nutrition but a slightly lower calorie cost from Pringles (450 calories) or peanut M&M's (840 calories). For flights longer than an hour and a half, you can select one of two additional snack boxes. The Flight Delights (530 calories) would be your best option and includes pita chips (130 calories), hummus (63 calories), apricots (70 calories), almonds (100 calories), as well as a Clif bar (100 calories) and a Toblerone mini (67 calories). The other choice is the Travel Treats (670 calories) which includes kettle chips (150 calories), salami (110 calories), white cheddar (50 calories), Gouda (50 calories), Late July crackers (90 calories), Craisins (100 calories) and Milano cookies (120 calories).

US Airways - There is room for a nutrition overhaul for overall choices although there a few more nutrient rich choices especially in snack boxes. Although they are similar to United Airlines, they are not when it comes to their snack boxes especially with the $3-$7 additional charge.

Both snack and meal box choices offer some nutrient rich items along with others that are not as much. Choices include the salami and cheese box (752 calories) with Stoned Classics tortilla chips (180 calories), Emerald trail mix (260 calories), Venus crackers (60 calories), Gouda cheese (76 calories), Ortega salsa (10 calories), Pepperidge Farm cookies (100 calories) and Toblerone (66 calories) or the chicken salad box (825 calories) with chicken salad (140 calories), Miltons multi-grain crackers (100 calories), McDuffies shortbread cookies (240 calories), Sunsweet dried apricots (70 calories), Snackwave trail mix (205 calories) and Belle Cre'me cheese spread (70 calories).

Snack bite choices are varied with Blue Diamond almonds (840 calories) provide the most nutrition but at a high calorie cost. Planters daybreak blend apple cinnamon trail mix (560 calories) is another nutrient rich choice as well as the Quaker oatmeal express golden brown sugar (200 calories). The Maruchan instant lunch – chicken flavor (290 calories) is a possibility and would rate above Pringles (480 calories), Mini Oreas (530 calories) or Twizzlers (525 calories).

Southwest Airlines - Offer free options but unfortunately they fall to the bottom of the nutritionally rich scale for all the airlines reviewed. For short flights, you can choose from honey peanuts (70 calories), dry-roasted peanuts (70 calories) or pretzels (50 calories) which are all good options. On longer flights you can choose from Nabisco airplane cookies (120 calories), Ritz cheese sandwich crackers (200 calories) or Ritz toasted chips (100 calories).

What tips do you follow to eat smart when you travel?

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  • 56
    You will nearly always be better off purchasing food yourself (or making it yourself) instead of hoping to get a good selection on a plane, unless you are in first class. Prices at airports and in-flight are far higher than outside - often double. Invest the extra in an insulated container that will protect your food item in carry-on. If you have multiple flights in a day, some airports have good sit-down restaurants that will tailor their meal to you (Seatac, for instance). Others have almost no food. To handle worst-case situations, bring imperishable healthy snacks just in case, enough for a full meal (kashi bars, hard fruits/cut apples). Even short flights have been known to be re-routed or held on a runway! - 12/22/2009   1:02:37 PM
    There are airlines that still feed its customers ? What a country ! LOL !! Seriously, airlines have been cutting everything. I traveled to Las Vegas and all we were served was a bag of peanuts or rice crackers. And it was a small bag too ! Now, when I went to Houston, Continential did serve us a small ham and cheese sandwich. That was the right portion size. I was shocked. Most of the flights I've been on don't serve food. Although, a couple gave an option of fast food IF you were will to over pay.

    No, I tend to bring my own goodies when I travel. I'll bring some fruit, rice crackers, granola bars or nuts. If I'm going a long way, I'll bring my own sandwich.

    - 12/21/2009   9:23:34 AM
  • 54
    Depending on the time of the flight, we either pack a meal ourselves, or snack on an apple or orange.

    Once on the flight, we ask for a bottle of water, usually twice since flying seems to dehydrate me. - 12/20/2009   1:01:48 AM
  • 53
    I tend to pack my own snacks so that I have portion control. This way I also know my calories and can track them. - 12/19/2009   8:06:01 PM
  • EUSTIS525
    Because I have celiac and airlines don't offer many gluten free options, if any, I always bring my own food. Typically I carry fresh fruit, granola or trail mix, and protein bars. - 12/19/2009   7:52:59 AM
    Since most airlines no longer serve any food, I bring our food. I usually do a wrap in a low-carb, high fiber whole wheat tortilla with turkey or ham, along with dijon mustard. Sometimes I wrap this around a part-skim cheese stick. It's yummy, has plenty of protein and fiber. - 12/18/2009   11:26:35 PM
    I've logged a lot of flight time in 2009 and I've got four business trips coming up this January, so this is top of mind for me!

    I bring breakfast or look for the Starbucks "protein pack" (whole grain bagel, egg, fruit, cheese--I get this on the road all the time when I'm between meetings, but it's not always available at airport Starbucks) or a fresh fruit cup. I also look for Subway or Au Bon Pain, both places I can grab a sandwich on whole grain bread with lots of veggies. If that fails, I look for a grilled chicken sandwich or a turkey sandwich without mayo. You can also usually grab an apple now at most food kiosks. And I always get a big bottle of water to help me stay hydrated.

    Also, when I'm in the airport, if I'm not running like a bat out of you know what on my layover (talk about cardio), I walk briskly to my departure terminal rather than taking the monorail or moving sidewalk and walk up stairs and escalators (when it's feasible with my carry-on bags). - 12/18/2009   6:24:35 PM
  • 49
    I bring apples & bananas, & a protein powder - single serve packets. That way I can control what I eat and it doesn't cost me a arm & a leg! - 12/18/2009   6:16:16 PM
    Thanks for the great info - 12/18/2009   4:32:11 PM
  • 47
    I bring an empty bottle and fill it at the water fountain. I also bring my own food in case of delays. I can then control what I eat. - 12/18/2009   3:49:08 PM
  • 46
    I bring my own snacks such as I make a trail mix or other healthy treats. - 12/18/2009   3:11:35 PM
  • 45
    I Always carry my own snacks on the plane. Almonds, dried fruit, cheese and water crackers are my go to for flights. Also, when they come by with beverages, I always ask for a juice or coffee AND a water. I've never had a flight attendant not be willing to give me two beverages. - 12/18/2009   2:31:59 PM
  • 44
    Wow, I never see all these choices when I fly! usually they just give you a small bag of pretzels. On an INTERNATIONAL flight, my husband asked for a bottle of water (we are going to share it) and they told him he couldn't have the full bottle, they could only give him a cup. How much did we pay for those tickets again?? Anyway...I went off topic a bit. I try to bring my own snacks on planes. At least I know what is in them. - 12/18/2009   2:03:54 PM
  • 43
    TY for the heads up - 12/18/2009   1:51:19 PM
  • SUNSET09
    I eat the free items, request juice and water over soft drinks as well as peanuts for protein. The cookies are tempting and good; sometimes a treat, thanx for the info! - 12/18/2009   12:50:31 PM
  • 41
    I don't fly that often but when I do I make sure to carry lara or clif bars with me so I have healthy options if I get hungry. - 12/18/2009   11:51:49 AM
    Thanks for the info. The Delta Flight Delights sounds great, hope it's being offered on my flight tomorrow afternoon. Not sure what will be offered on the long overnight flights to and from South America. Usually I bring fruit, nuts and Luna or Larabars to avoid eating unhealthy options.

    At least on this cruise there is a dining room devoted to healthy eating! And my daughter said she'd like the company on adjoining treadmills in the fitness center, I'll walk while she runs. - 12/18/2009   11:01:16 AM
  • 39
    I always pack food when I fly both to save nutritionally and because the prices are gouged so high it's ridiculous! - 12/18/2009   10:48:08 AM
  • 38
    As long as they still allow it BRING your OWN snacks...and drink pleanty of water (it is still free!) - 12/18/2009   10:17:21 AM
  • 37
    I fly often, and often cross-country. On United, the snack options are usually very processed foods that I try to avoid. I have bought the yogurt parfait for breakfast; at 310 calories that's not a bad choice. I always bring homemade trail mix and/or granola or Luna bars to snack on while in flight. Luckily, if you're stuck in the airport for a while, there are many more healthy options for real meals these days, although they can be pricey. - 12/18/2009   9:45:27 AM
  • 36
    Great article! Thanks for providing this detailed report. Just another reason to love SparkPeople! - 12/18/2009   9:36:29 AM
  • 35
    When I fly, after I get through Security, I buy my own snacks. I buy water, raw nuts, and pretzels. I rarely fly longer than 4 hours, but if I did, I would buy a Subway or other kind of deli sub (ham and cheese or turkey) and bring that on the flight. - 12/18/2009   9:32:33 AM
  • 34
    If on a long flight, I purchase food before boarding. This gives me more choices and more control over what I eat. You can't depend upon the airlines always having food, & I've been on flights were they ran out of food & others where the ran out of coffee & other drinks. Be prepared & take care of yourself.
    And never drink or use the water from a the bathroom faucet to brush your teeth! (this is from an airline steward) - 12/18/2009   9:21:58 AM
    Great info - thanks - 12/18/2009   8:35:32 AM
    I haven't flown in quite some time (20 years!), but I'm surprised at how healthy and calorie-reasonable these options are. No more frying the fiendly skies! Glad things have changed. - 12/18/2009   8:21:34 AM
  • 31
    I fly between 12 and 20 days out of the month. I always bring my own snacks. The food on the plane and in airports is costly and during delays and in between flights, I find comfort knowing that I can eat healthy and save money. Sometimes, I'll bring oatmeal or grits so that I can have a hot breakfast on the plane (I just ask the cabin crew for a cup of hot water). I also bring fruit leather, apples, bananas, trail mix, crackers, etc... - 12/18/2009   8:09:48 AM
  • 30
    I always eat a good filling healthy meal before leaving for the airport, then I always carry healthy snacks with me. It is a lot cheaper and I know what I am putting in my body. - 12/18/2009   7:28:04 AM
  • 29
    I don't fly but if I did I would take my own snacks. - 12/18/2009   7:16:19 AM
    Can I suggest that when flying try using elete, which is an electrolyte and mineral drink concentrate (just add to water or a soft drink) specifically developed for optimum hydration. A peer reviewed independent study showed that when using elete, 40% less water was needed to properly hydrate. Go to to find out more (can also be purchased in the US). It is 100% natural and calorie free.

    I have to declare an interest as I am a director of MRI (UK) Ltd, which owns the distribution rights for elete in Europe. However, I can assure you it is a wonderful product and would not be posting this if I did not know that it works - I use it all the time when flying.

    Adrian - 12/18/2009   6:35:50 AM
  • 27
    I always pack my own snacks so I don't get tempted by theirs! - 12/18/2009   6:19:16 AM
  • 26
    I always make my own concoction of trail mix with nuts, dried fruits, chocolate chips & dried cereal. It satisfies my sweet & salty craving and is filling and healthy. I usually take an empty bottle and fill it up at the drinking fountain after going through the security check . This I learned after having to throw bottles of water away forgetting about the liquids, lol! - 12/18/2009   5:51:43 AM
    I don't fly, so that's one thing I don't worry about. - 12/18/2009   5:34:01 AM
  • 24
    I choose to bring my own food on board. I normally pack what ever seems good that day.
    A salad, a healthy sandwich on whole grain bread with fruit I choose for a drink a V8 or tomato juice.
    I have in the past brought cookies to share but people are not very trusting while traveling. - 12/18/2009   4:32:47 AM
  • 23
  • 22
    Thanks for the info, bit due to a wheat allergy I usually bring my own food. - 12/18/2009   1:36:32 AM
  • 21
    Great information. - 12/18/2009   1:25:02 AM
  • 20
    I'm surprised you didn't mention Midwest's chocolate chip cookies. - 12/18/2009   12:31:55 AM
  • 19
    Like others, I take an empty water bottle and fill it up after passing the inspection, but it is ever so nice to have an apple to munch on the flight... wet wipes for my hands are also good to have, so I tuck them in, too. - 12/17/2009   11:29:45 PM
  • 18
    Well I am sure glad I don't fly very much anymore. I like to remember the days when you got real meals and then you didn't need all these snacks. I like to stop and get a vegie sandwich at Subway, with apples and water for all my flights even cross country. If they have yogurt for a snack choice that is what I pick or I will bring another type of fruit with me like a banana - 12/17/2009   10:52:03 PM
  • 17
    I try to buy something healthy at the airport before takeoff. - 12/17/2009   10:39:36 PM
  • 16
    Good info to know. I get overwhelmed by the constant thrust of food during my international flights. Good to have a mental scale to measure them by. - 12/17/2009   10:18:10 PM
    I've logged more hours in the air than most pilots have. On practically all domestic flights these days, there is little "food" made available other than a possible snack. I have noted changes in food style on international flights over the years. Portion control has never been a problem but the hors derves and deserts may still be a little overboard! Never a problem staying hydrated though which should be a bigger concern with air travel. Also, on long international trips, it is wise to rise and move around occasionally. That 17 hour flight from LA to Sydney, Australia, is a beast. I think I did that about a dozen times or so! - 12/17/2009   9:24:43 PM
  • 14
    I've never considered the nutritional value of airline foods before. Let's face it, most airline food is horrible so taste was more of a worry. Since airlines have begun to charge for meals I tend to either go without or bring my own. When I do carry my own foods I brings sandwiches, baby carrots and grapes or craisins. When the airlines begin to charge for water then I'll really be in trouble. - 12/17/2009   7:26:02 PM
  • 13
    I take my owm food when possible. Most flights i have taken recently don't serve food at all, and high calorie snack s for a pretty penny. I play it safe and try take my own, or buy in airport if needed there's pretty good choices if you look for them. - 12/17/2009   7:14:47 PM
  • 12
    We travel frequently by air, and pack our own food to take with us. We pack apples, bananas, nuts, carrots, grapes, pretzels, peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat bread, and sometimes I make a trail mix with nuts, raisins, and dark chocolate mini m & m's. Not all of these at the same time though, lol! We do take advantage of the free beverages and drink ice water. The selections on the airlines is not what I would consider healthy at all. They could do so much more with just a little effort. - 12/17/2009   6:40:21 PM
  • 11
    That is great information. I'll be flying Continental overseas for the New Year holiday so I will definitely keep the nutrition content in mind when it comes time for meals. - 12/17/2009   6:06:35 PM
  • 10
    Hey hey.

    I'm flying to Jamaica in less than a month on Delta and this makes me sorta happy to see:
    "The Flight Delights (530 calories) would be your best option and includes pita chips (130 calories), hummus (63 calories), apricots (70 calories), almonds (100 calories), as well as a Clif bar (100 calories) and a Toblerone mini (67 calories)."

    Everything except that Toblerone looks vegan at a glance. 'Course, they could still manage to toss cow into the pitas or hummus and if they flavor the almonds I'm boned there. But! i could eat the Clif bar. And that's a huge improvement over the last time I went to Jamaica.

    I couldn't eat anything they offered and the flight attendant got lippy at our refusals. We were polite but she seems so miffed when we turned down the meat, dairy and egg laden "food" they tried to feed us. Egg McMuffin type sandwiches? Really? EW.

    I always pack snacks (shake a vegan and snacks fall out of our pockets/bags, basically - it's a universal thing. LOL.) and intend to make this trip no exception. My bag will have some veg jerky, luna bars and builder bars (cause I can never eat desserts anywhere and I have a sweet tooth!) and maybe a couple vegan candies. I could always find beans, rice, veg and fruit on the island but my sweet tooth suffers. :) - 12/17/2009   4:44:53 PM
  • 9
    99% of my travel is on International airlines where food is FREE. When I book my flight, I order special meals weather they are low sodium, low calorie, low fat, low cholesterol, diabetic, vegetarian or special religious meals. I never have a problem with those and have been doing that for 15 years now. - 12/17/2009   4:30:31 PM
  • 8
    I have flown four times in one year with Northwest,, never heard of any of the "food"you profiled here except the $2 short teeny can of pringles. Short of crashing on a deserted island, nothing could induce me to pay for the "edible" things they hawk.
    I take baby carrots, cukes, celery, baked low fat pretzels for carbs, grape tomatoes, dry cereal,, all in ziploc bags to toss later..drink all the water they will give me en flight. I drop an airborne in my water preflight and en flight also,, always keep sugar free (and a few regular for possible reactions) candies and gum for dry mouth. - 12/17/2009   4:20:53 PM
  • 7
    Low carb protein bars have saved me more than once, most recently 3 days ago when fogged in at Reagan National for TEN HOURS. :-o

    So, a water bottle & protein bars. If there's room, fruit is good, as are lowfat crackers (Wasa crisp & light) and cheese (WW cheddar or Laughing Cow Extra Light). - 12/17/2009   3:28:32 PM

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